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‘History of Swear Words’: Netflix doc filthy rich with insight about obscenities

Nicolas Cage hosts an entertaining course on the coarsest vulgarities, explained by comedians and language experts.

Nicolas Cage knows of what he speaks as the host of “History of Swear Words.”
Netflix

According to a study of more than 3,500 movie scripts by the Buzz Bingo website, Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street” is the most expletive-laden film of all time, with 715 curse words, more than “Uncut Gems” (646), “Casino” (606), “Jay and Silent Strike Back” (509) and the Brad Pitt World War II movie “Fury” (489).

I’m not aware of any studies listing the limited series with the most expletives, but I’m willing to bet the f------ house we have a new winner in the six-episode Netflix documentary “History of Swear Words,” a cheeky, entertaining and legitimately educational look at the etymology of the most common curse words, with each 20-minute episode focusing on one particular “swear,” from “damn” to the f-word to the s-word and you can probably guess some of the other all-star, multi-usage terms.

Your genially foul-mouthed host for this journey is Nicolas Cage, and you’re probably thinking “Why didn’t they get Samuel L. Jackson?” cause that’s what I was thinking, but Cage has appeared in dozens of films in which the expletives fly freely and he throws himself into this project from the get-go. The series kicks off with Cage looking straight into the camera with a deadly serious expression and delivering a monologue with snippets of famous expletive-filled movie lines and meltdowns:

“F--- are you looking at? I’ve had it with these motherf------ snakes on this motherf------ plane. F--- you, f--- you, f--- you, you’re cool, f--- you I’m out … You want me to trash your f------ lights? Then why are you trashing my scene? You are one ugly motherf-----. You have insulted me for the last f------ time. F--- you, that’s my name. Don’t waste my motherf------ time! F--- it, we’ll do it live.”

A pause, as Cage calms down and says: “An actor’s greatest tool IS their imagination. But swearing is definitely up there.”

And away we go.

With the help of expert lexicographers who guide us through graphics-filled histories of the various swear words, some of which date back more than a thousand years, as well as comedians such as Nikki Glaser and Zainab Johnson and Sarah Silverman, and actors such as Nick Offerman and Isiah Whitlock Jr. (who performs a very, very, very, VERY long version of his “Wire” character Clay Davis’ famous take on the s-word), “History of Swear Words” fully embraces the art of swearing and provides evidence cursing is a multi-faceted tool of expression and even a valuable coping mechanism. (In one experiment, a number of entertainers plunge an arm into a tub of ice-cold water. One group is allowed to swear as a coping mechanism, while the other isn’t. To an individual, the cursing subjects last longer than the non-swearers.)

“The Wire” actor Isiah Whitlock Jr. is one of the commentators experimenting to see if cussing makes ice-cold water more bearable.
Netflix

Arguably the standout episode of the series does a deep drill into the word “bitch,” and how it carries such a different meaning depending on who’s saying it and in what context. “I would advise any straight man to never call a woman a bitch,” says Nikki Glaser. Adds Zainab Johnson: “Yeah, I call myself a bitch, my female friends can call me a bitch, even my grandma can call me a bitch if she wants to. But if a guy calls me a bitch, I’m gonna burn his motherf------ house down.”

Swear words to live by.